Believe it or not, the rosary as it exists today has been a long time coming. Its earliest form came into being during the 13th century, which can be attributed to St. Dominic and his deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The institution of the rosary by St. Dominic came into question years later when members of the Jesuit order, lead by John Bolland, began to compile historical evidence for different devotions. They claimed there was insufficient reason to believe that the rosary began with Dominic, which prompted the action of not one but two subsequent popes.
Understanding the Origin and History of the Rosary
Confusion over the origins of the rosary became so extensive that Pope Benedict XIII called upon Cardinal Prospero Lambertinito to investigate the Bollandists’ claim. Cardinal Lambertini carefully explored the existing records about both St. Dominic and the rosary. His efforts unearthed proof that would settle the case. What he discovered was the will of Anthony Ser.
In the document, Ser stated: “I bequeath money to the Confraternity of the Rosary founded by the good Dominic Guzman, of which I am a member.” This was the evidence needed to confirm the story. St. Dominic, named Dominic Guzman at birth, was born to a knight and lady in Caleruega, Spain in 1170. His mother, Blessed Jane Guzman, was known for her devotion to God and her compassion for the poor and afflicted. From his youth, she taught her son Dominic stories from the life of Christ. Zeal for the Lord grew in Dominic, and he was ordained a priest at 24 years old.
During that time, the Albigensian heresy was taking France by storm, leading to the deaths of many. It proclaimed all worldly matter to be evil and life on earth to be the work of the devil. This resulted in the slaughter of countless victims and a total disregard for life. St. Dominic set out for southern France in 1203 to preach against this heresy and spread the Good News. However, his efforts were in vain. The people there had all but lost their faith. The only scraps of Christianity left for them were just two prayers: the Our Father and the Hail Mary, which at that time was called the Angelic Salutation. For years, St. Dominic was met with staggering failure. At his wits end, he went to the Chapel of St. Mary in Prouille and, weeping, he poured out his sorrow to the Blessed Mother. Mary answered him in a vision, appearing before him and saying:
“Wonder not that until now you have obtained so little fruit by your labors: you have spent them on a barren soil, not yet watered with the dew of divine grace. When God willed to renew the face of the earth, He began by sending down on it the fertilizing rain of the Angelic Salutation. Preach my Psalter (rosary) composed of 150 Angelic Salutations and 15 Our Fathers and you will obtain an abundant harvest.”
The Rosary Becomes a Part of Catholic Tradition
St. Dominic followed Our Lady’s instruction, using what was revealed to him by the Mother of God and by his own mother. He went back to the Albigensians with the prayers of the rosary—then called the Psalter of Mary because it contained 150 Hail Mary’s like the 150 Psalms of Scripture. He segmented the Hail Mary’s into decades, each beginning with an Our Father, and in each decade, he shared with the Albigensians one of the Gospel stories his mother had taught him in his childhood. In this way, he took the small good that the people already had and grew it into the fullness of the Faith. Dedication to praying the daily rosary spread through the Church, and over the subsequent centuries, particular stories from Christ’s life became regular meditations—what we know today as the joyful, sorrowful, glorious, and luminous mysteries. Cardinal Lambertini himself later became Pope Benedict XIV, taking the name of his predecessor, and, regarding the rosary, stated:
“You ask whether St. Dominic was the first institutor of the Rosary and show that you yourselves are bewildered and entangled in doubts on the matter. Now what value do you attach to the testimony of so many Popes…who unanimously attribute the institution of the Rosary to St. Dominic.”
It can be said that all heresies are the recycling of the same lies. Many heresies have denied the goodness of the body and the material world, resulting in a culture of death. What we face today is also a culture of death, and we need the rosary now more than ever! Devotion to the Blessed Mother and her rosary are sure methods by which we can stand against evil and share the truth of Salvation with others.
Here at Mary’s Shrine, we receive the petitions of countless people, which we offer up in our daily rosary and at Mass. It is our mission to spread the Gospel message through devotion to the Blessed Mother. We offer a variety of materials—booklets, reflections, guides, and rosary beads—all for the purpose of teaching people to pray the rosary and providing those who already know it an opportunity to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ and His Mother. Below you will find links to these spiritual tools. May they help you find truth and bring you closer to the Lord. And may Mary Immaculate pray for us!
Feeney, Robert. The Rosary: “The Little Summa,” 3rd ed. Virginia: Aquinas Press, 2001.